Diabetes is a massive problem worldwide - in the UK alone there are over 2.3 million people with diabetes and more than half a million who have the condition but don't know it.
When you eat starchy foods (like bread, pasta, chapattis, potatoes, yam, noodles, rice and cereals) or sweet, sugary foods, the food is digested and broken down into glucose (a type of sugar). The glucose then travels round the body in the blood, until a hormone called insulin helps it to be used as fuel for the body.
Diabetes mellitus, more usually called diabetes, is a condition in which the amount of glucose in the blood is too high. This can happen for two reasons - either there isn't enough insulin or the insulin doesn't work properly. In both cases, the glucose can't be used as fuel and stays in the blood, leading to serious health problems.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
An inability to produce any insulin is called type 1 diabetes and has to be treated with insulin injections - without these injections the condition can be fatal. Type 1 usually appears before the age of 40 and is much less common than type 2 - less than 15% of all people with diabetes have type 1. A healthy diet and regular exercise are important for people with this form of diabetes, just as they are for everyone else.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes means that, either your body doesn't make enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn't work properly. More and more people are developing this type of diabetes and it can have serious health implications.
Who is at risk?
Most newly diagnosed people are aged over 40, and the risk of developing type 2 increases with age.
Having diabetes in the family makes it more likely that you will develop it.
African-Caribbean and south Asian people living in the UK are five times more likely to have type 2 diabetes, and often develop it around five years earlier, than the white population.
80% of people with type 2 are overweight when they're diagnosed. Your risk increases the more overweight and inactive you are.
Waist measurement - women have a higher risk if your waist measures more than 80cm (30.5 inches); for white or black men the risk increases with a waist measurement of over 94cm (37 inches); Asian men have a higher risk when their waist measures over 90cm (35 inches).
Is it serious?
If diabetes isn't properly managed, it can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and nerve damage that can cause amputation.
How will I know?
The earlier your diabetes is diagnosed, the less likely it is that you will suffer the long-term damage that it can cause. Unfortunately, you may not recognise the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, or simply put them down to getting older.
You should take a diabetes test (visit your GP or ask your ASDA pharmacist for a free test) if you suffer any of these symptoms:
- Extreme thirst
- Going to the loo (for a wee) all the time, especially at night
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blurred vision
What's the good news?
Type 2 diabetes can be treated with lifestyle changes, sometimes alongside tablets or insulin. So, making changes to your diet, weight and levels of physical activity will play a major role in staying healthy. You don't have to do anything special - a healthy lifestyle for someone with diabetes is no different to a healthy lifestyle for anyone else.
Visit your ASDA pharmacy for a free BMI check, or use our BMI checker, to see if you're a healthy weight for your height. Losing weight can play a key role in managing your diabetes but it's really important that you do it carefully. Avoid very restrictive and nutritionally unbalanced diets and check with your healthcare team about snacking between meals. There are countless benefits to losing weight so ask your dietitian or GP about how to do it safely.
Let's get physical
Physical activity is just as important as your diet - the recommended minimum amount of activity for adults is 30 minutes a day, five days a week, while children should be active for an hour a day.
Your half hour doesn't have to be all at once - get off the bus a stop earlier, take the stairs instead of the escalator and park the car further from the supermarket entrance - you'll be more active in no time!
Eat to beat it
There's a myth that people with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods. The truth is that diabetic versions of foods offer no special benefit. They still raise blood glucose levels, contain just as much fat and calories, are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect.
In fact, both Diabetes UK and the Food Standards Agency are calling for an end to the use of terms such as ‘diabetic' or ‘suitable for diabetics' on food labels.
A healthy diet for people with diabetes is the same as that recommended for everyone - low in fat, salt and sugar, with meals including starchy foods like bread and pasta and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Diabetes UK recommends that you see a dietitian (ask your GP for a referral) to help you make changes to your diet. However, these basic rules can help you to make important adjustments right away:
Eat three regular meals a day to control your appetite and blood glucose levels.
Always include starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, chapattis, potatoes, yam, noodles, rice and cereals. Choose wholemeal or wholegrain varieties wherever possible and remember that these starchy foods, as well as sugary foods, affect your blood glucose levels.
Cut down saturated fats (found in meat, butter and full-fat milk products), which are linked to heart disease. Choose unsaturated fats or oils instead, such as olive oil and rapeseed oil.
Eat more fruit and vegetables - they're great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre and they're naturally low in fat. Aim for at least five servings a day to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Include more beans and lentils such as kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas, and lentils by adding them to stews, casseroles, soups, or salads.
Eat at least one portion of oily fish a week to help protect against heart disease. Try mackerel, sardines, salmon or pilchards.
Limit sugar and sugary foods. Sugar can be part of a healthy, balanced diet but sugary drinks cause blood glucose levels to rise quickly.
Reduce the salt in your diet to 6g or less a day to lower your blood pressure. Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt and choose lower salt options when buying ready-prepared foods. Asda's traffic light signposting on packs will help you to see which foods contain less salt.
Drink alcohol in moderation - that's a maximum of two units a day for women and three units a day for men (a pub measure of spirits, half a pint of normal strength beer or a small glass of wine is about one unit). Alcohol contains empty calories so cut down more if you're trying to lose weight. Never drink on an empty stomach, as alcohol can make lower blood glucose levels making hypoglycaemia more likely in people on some diabetic medicines.
Don't be tempted by diabetic foods or drinks, which offer no benefit - they are expensive and will still affect your blood glucose levels.
For more information or a quick summary of this information why not listen to our diabetes podcasts with our Asda Nutritionist? Simply click on the link above or visit the podcast section of our website.
This year Diabetes week will be happening between the 13th and the 19th of June 2010. For more information about the events planned, materials you can order or to simply find out about diabetes please visit www.diabetes.org.uk.